dont, things, know, need

Bidens speech on voting rights was full of soaring rhetoric. It may not matter.  

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema just may not care about democracy.

Crash, bang, wallet: why downsizing your card-carrier is a great idea | Jess Cartner-Morley   9%

A big, bulging wallet used to be a status symbol. In our post-cash society, a dinky, stylish ‘wallette’ makes much more sense

It’s time to downsize your finances. I mean a permanent cutback, not just a post-Christmas squeeze. But this isn’t about tightening your belt; it is about shrinking your wallet.

These days, my wallet is more of a wallette. It is a glorified cardholder, really: just bigger than a credit card, with slots for swipecards and driving licence and the few store cards and membership cards that haven’t yet migrated to my phone. There is a press-stud compartment for cash, although I use this infrequently. In lipstick-red grained calfskin leather, with gilt YSL lettering, my wallette still has an air of importance. But it is a shadow of its former incarnations.

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UN chief cites demonstrable effort at peace in Ethiopia   70%

The United Nations secretary-general said Wednesday he was delighted to hear “there is now a demonstrable effort to make peace” in Ethiopia after more than 14 months of war, but he gave no

Bank Holidays 2022: Full list including Queens Platinum Jubilee dates  

Everything you need to know before planning your annual leave for 2022

Go all-out with this luxurious Israeli breakfast at home  

These are all the recipes you need to transport yourself to a Middle Eastern summer day on the beach.

Can monobob shake up the world of bobsleigh on its Olympic debut?   32%

The one-woman event will make its bow at Beijing 2022, and efforts have been made to make it a discipline that changes the status quo

Can a one-person event make a sport more diverse?

Consider monobob, the accurately named bobsleigh event that will make its Olympic debut this year, six years after its first Youth Olympic Games competition. The name says it all – the driver does everything by herself.

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What 10 days of clean eating actually does to your body  

Improved muscle strength, heightened concentration and increased energy levels are just some things you’ll notice days after quitting booze, meat and sugar.

Investors burst Redbubble shares after trading update   -87%

Online marketplace Redbubble’s share price was hammered during Tuesday’s session after it released a trading update that disappointed investors, making it the worst performer on the sharemarket for the day.

Survivor Is Deceptive. Thats What Makes It So Real.   -1%

A few years ago, I started watching Survivor as an antidote to the evening news. I had seen some early seasons of the show when they first aired, and I craved that break from daily life again. On Survivor there are no calendars or headlines, and the days are measured by the tides, by the rising and setting of the sun. Players compete in weird physical challenges in remote locations with no hope of rescue. As I watched the second time around, I dove into the immense fandom surrounding the show, much of it intelligent, passionate, and witty.

Like all reality shows, Survivor is highly edited, but it works to convince us that we are watching something authentic and spontaneous, intimate moments projected onto the public space. This is a television show in which people on camera pretend to be real, think they are being real, are challenged to be real, fail to be real—and once in a while let slip something that is in fact real. Catching up on old seasons, I was struck not by the show’s deception but by its honesty: Survivor reflects our world. Its contestants are compelling even when they’re unbearable. Their motivations—what compels and attracts them—are deeply human. I’ve come to see the show as a fun-house mirror, a near-perfect fantasy made from our preoccupation with one another’s lives.

This article was adapted from Sallie Tisdale’s recent book, The Lie About the Truck. (Gallery Books)

Survivor, which recently finished its 41st season, follows a group of contestants who act as though no one is watching while they argue about whom to vote out so they can win $1 million. But sometimes the pressure of the game leads to instances of humanity. In the tenth season, Ian and Tom were allies with a father-son-like relationship. Once, Tom told Ian that he was too immature to understand commitment—which Ian appeared to prove right when he later decided to betray Tom. But after that moment of disloyalty, Ian couldn’t seem to get Tom’s words out of his head. So, in one of the final challenges, after standing barefoot on a tiny platform in a bay for almost 12 hours, Ian suddenly declared that he would quit because of what Tom had said. “I’ll give up the million,” he said, to get Tom’s and the other remaining contestant’s friendship back. He stepped off into the ocean to show the devotion Tom said he didn’t have. Tom went on to win the game.

[Read: The paranoid style in American entertainment]

True honesty is rare on Survivor, which so thoroughly blurs the line between fiction and reality that, watching it, one can start to question almost everything. In this context, even the weather can seem strange. When thunder erupted at one tribal council, the meeting that ends each episode with a player’s inevitable elimination, the host, Jeff Probst, looked to the sky. As the rain started soaking the players, he said, “Is this a reminder of how real it all is?” The storm was real (bad weather is frequent during filming), but it was also convenient for producers—a natural manifestation of the dangerous atmosphere they’re constantly trying to fabricate.

Fans of shows like Survivor often like to imagine how they would fare under such conditions. The show promotes the idea that anyone can win—that an ordinary person can vanquish enemies and prevail—but of course the contestants are not ordinary people. Malcolm, who has played Survivor three times, said of those cast on the show, “It’s not everyday Americans … It’s a bunch of people who are supposed to kind of go nuts and not get along because that’s why people keep watching after 20 years.” The show is edited so that these people fit sometimes broad stereotypes. Probst has said that his job is finding “every player’s dramatic arc,” and telling “a story in a jungle with heroes and villains and archetypes and underdogs and all that stuff.” The contestants consent to all of this, signing a contract allowing images of themselves that may be of an “intimate, surprising, defamatory, disparaging, embarrassing, or unfavorable nature that may be factual and/or fictional” to be broadcast, according to a version of the document leaked in 2010. (At the time, CBS claimed that the contract’s posting represented a copyright infringement, but did not otherwise comment on its contents.) Essentially, they agree to be characters.

Survivor’s almost entirely made-up plot reveals an important truth. The show takes the small social falsehoods of daily life and turns them into a competition. “Real” life—what we engage in day after day at home and work and in public places—is a series of performances, as the social psychologist Erving Goffman argued decades ago. Even in our most intimate encounters, we are presenting only a chosen part of ourselves; to interact is to follow a script. From an unfelt smile to a begrudging apology, we lie to one another all the time. To be human is to struggle with the nature of the mask one almost always wears.

[Read: Reality TV’s absurd new extreme]

On Survivor, these disguises are a requirement of the game. You win by lying, by pretending not to be lying, by swearing that you are not lying. At the end of each season, some of the eliminated players form a jury to vote on a winner, and each gets to make a speech. In Season 8, one contestant, Lex, used his time to gripe about Rob, one of the finalists. He thought they were friends who had a deal. Rob eventually betrayed Lex, in a move that a critic for The Wire called “devious, shocking, wholly supportable from a gameplay perspective.” “This game exposes who we are as people to the core. It’s like truth serum,” Lex said. “You sold out your values, you sold out your character, and you sold out your friends for a stack of greenbacks.” But, of course, that’s the point of the game—that is the game. Rob expressed his regrets to the jury, saying that he didn’t mean to hurt anyone, his eyes filling with unshed tears. He seemed to mean it in the moment; then he moved on.

People change faces so easily on the show. In Season 7, Sandra, who went on to win the $1 million prize twice and played like a feral wolf in shy sheep’s clothing, swore on her kids to another contestant that she wasn’t lying. But later, in a confessional, she looked at the camera and addressed that player: “I swear on my two kids that I’m going to screw you.” Sandra, who called herself the queen of Survivor, deceived her fellow players as easily as she walked down the beach. She understood something many players forget: Everyone inhabits roles, stepping in and out of different personas. Sandra knew which social costumes would help her to win, and took them on and off without hesitation.

In some ways, the contestants’ deceptions mirror those made by the show itself. Survivor’s editors usually pare about 25 hours of footage for each episode down to 40 minutes, sometimes showing scenes out of order or splicing together conversations. But this isn’t so different from how we tell stories every day. We sift through the raw material of our lives to find the logic in it, to find a line we can follow from then until now.

In a culture filled with cameras both seen and hidden, Survivor calls attention to this make-believe. The recently finished season was newly self-conscious, no longer hiding the fact that it’s a TV show much at all. The players praised and complained about the game while they played. Probst talked directly to the camera too. And this self-awareness reflects the “real” world in a new way. Look at us, the host and players seem to say each week. We’re performing, like everybody else.

This article was adapted from Sallie Tisdale’s recent book, The Lie About the Truck: Survivor, Reality TV, and the Endless Gaze.

'How I Met Your Father' flips 'Mother' format   4%

"How I Met Your Father" is billed as a sequel, not a reboot, since it incorporates a few elements of the original CBS series that ended in 2014, as opposed to just flipping the gender on it. Whatever one chooses to call it (and it's a distinction without much difference), this Hulu series feels particularly stale, with its modest wrinkles failing to offer enough to merit starting a new relationship.

How explaining ageing (and death and birth) has changed me  

The closest thing we have to an anti-ageing option is exercise. But we’re not talking about running marathons.

Former Canada captain Scott Arfield announces retirement from international soccer   -6%

Former Canada captain Scott Arfield has announced his retirement from international soccer. The 33-year-old Glasgow Rangers midfielder said he was making the decision "with a heavy heart."

Jewish leaders decry claims Texas synagogue hostage situation wasn't motivated by antisemitism  

'There'll be attempts to make today’s events in Texas about everything except antisemitism,' says one Jewish leader after the FBI asserted hostage situation wasn't 'specifically related' to Jewish community

Jurics death metal approach has made Torino a devilish team to face | Nicky Bandini   -6%

Ivan Juric has brought the energy of his musical taste to Torino – who are reaping the rewards of a more destructive style

It has been 12 years since Ivan Juric told an interviewer from Rolling Stone magazine that footballers “don’t know shit about music”. The Croatian was enjoying the final days of his playing career at Genoa, soaking up knowledge from a manager, Gian Piero Gasperini, who would become his greatest influence as he prepared to make his own move into coaching.

Still, Juric harboured one regret. “The only other metal-head I have played with in a 15-year career was an Argentinian goalkeeper at Crotone,” he said. “I started at 14 years old with Metallica and Megadeth, then I moved on to more aggressive things. Death metal is my passion, bands like Napalm Death, Obituary and Carcass.”

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The Bloody, Brutal Business of Being a Teenage Girl   -16%

Yellowjackets, the Showtime series about a high-school girls’ soccer team stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash, can be extremely stressful to watch. The drama, which ended its first season tonight and has been renewed for a second, is relentlessly violent, and the writers seem to delight in attacking or killing off the most lovable characters. The aggressively knotty narrative braids together two timelines: One, set in 1996, follows the squad after the accident and involves drug-induced visions, a close encounter with a bear, and—eventually, per a flash-forward—a cannibalistic cult led by a masked character wearing antlers on her head. The other, set in the present day, tracks the survivors as middle-aged adults who get targeted by a blackmailer. At times, Yellowjackets’ many preposterous story beats have risked derailing the show.

Yet the series has kept a vise grip on my mind since it began airing in November, and not only because I’ve been itching to see whether my theory about the identity of the antlered cult leader would turn out to be correct. Like other shows that filter the high-school experience through a dark, often bloody lens (Euphoria and Pretty Little Liars come to mind), Yellowjackets frames the coming-of-age journey as a psychological horror. But unlike those dramas, it gleefully takes the idea to the extreme, mixing supernatural elements and pitch-black humor into an already pulpy premise. In this stew of hormones, gore, and mordant farce, the series captures the way that growing out of girlhood is an inherently brutal and absurd process.

[Read: A guide to 2022’s most promising TV]

Despite comparisons to Lord of the Flies and Lost, Yellowjackets quickly moves past the survival framework. Soon after the crash, the team finds a freshwater lake, a cabin that provides suitable shelter, and ample game to hunt. Given the present-day timeline, the question isn’t whether the survivors will be rescued; it’s how exactly their fragile interpersonal relationships will change during their 19 months in the woods. The mere fact that they’re stranded shuffles the team’s pecking order. Misty (played by Samantha Hanratty), the friendless equipment manager, finds herself newly essential because she has basic medical skills. In contrast, the team captain, Jackie (Ella Purnell), was popular in the halls of their high school but now struggles to find her place in the group. The instability of the Yellowjackets’ hierarchy is scarier than anything they might encounter in the woods, making clear how the team’s camaraderie could morph into something as feral as a cannibalistic cult.

Consider Jackie's fate in the Season 1 finale, for example. She has a fight with her best friend, Shauna (Sophie Nélisse), during which none of the Yellowjackets dares to intervene, and ends up sleeping outside the cabin. Jackie then dreams about making up with Shauna, and the rest of the team reassuring her she’s loved—until the show reveals that she died overnight after a blizzard unexpectedly set in. In other words, the girl who got iced out of the squad she once led wound up freezing to death.

The development is dramatic and unsubtle, but that’s what makes Yellowjackets such a refreshing and compelling watch. To teenage girls, negotiating friendships can feel like a matter of life or death, and the show treats their concerns with obvious sympathy. It does the same for its characters’ personal insecurities: After months in the wilderness, Jackie worries about the prospect of dying without losing her virginity first. Van (Liv Hewson), who survives being mauled by a wolf, admits that she’s afraid to be seen with so many scars on her face.

Such anxieties may sound foolish to some viewers, but Yellowjackets doesn’t think they are; the series leans into the drama that heightens every facet of girlhood. Sometimes, the show aims simply for sardonic laughs. In one episode, the entire team’s periods sync up—and anyone who knows the pain of cramps can appreciate the agony of going without heating pads and Midol. Most of the time, however, the series grounds its twists (especially the goriest and most tragic ones) in realistic teenage desires, the chief of which is to fit in. Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) wants to be seen as a leader, but her quest to prove herself by leading some of the squad on a hike out of the woods ends in disaster. Misty destroys the flight recorder, and a chance at being saved, because she’s afraid of returning to being bullied in high school.

[Read: The unending assaults on girlhood]

In an interview, one of the series’ co-creators, Ashley Lyle, explained that she was inspired to write the show after reading comments about how a female version of Lord of the Flies would never work, because girls could never be as barbaric as boys. But Yellowjackets argues that the barbarism of girlhood is something more complex than many people are willing to admit. Its characters are more than capable of physical violence, as well as a precise form of emotional undoing, against themselves and against one another.

The show’s heavy focus on the earlier timeline means that, despite scene-chewing performances from the adult cast, the present-day events can feel like an afterthought, especially the blackmail plot. Still, the glimpses of the Yellowjackets as middle-aged women emphasize how the trauma of their time in the woods lingers. The casting of ’90s teen idols such as Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci, and Juliette Lewis underlines, on a meta level, the way their characters remain tethered to the versions of themselves from decades ago, insecurities and all. Late in the finale, for instance, Shauna pauses before going inside the high-school reunion she and her fellow Yellowjackets have agreed to attend. “How is it possible this is the most scared I’ve been all day?” she asks. Because, Yellowjackets makes plain, the growing pains of girlhood can leave the kinds of scars that are invisible yet never fade.

The Subversive Genius of Extremely Slow Email   20%

Every day, the mail still comes. My postal carrier drives her proud van onto the street and then climbs each stoop by foot. The service remains essential, but not as a communications channel. I receive ads and bills, mostly, and the occasional newspaper clipping from my mom. For talking to people, I use email and text and social networking. The mail is a ritual but also a relic.

That relic is also the model for a new personal-communication app called Pony Messenger. Think of it as email, if email arrived by post: You compose a message and put it in an outbox; once a day (you can choose morning, afternoon, or evening “pickups”), Pony picks up your outbound dispatches and delivers your inbounds. That’s it. It’s postal-service cosplay. It’s slow email.

Dmitry Minkovsky has been working on Pony over the past three years, with the goal of recovering some of the magic that online life had lost for him. The work falls into a long tradition, part conceptual art and part whimsy, that emerged in response to the oppressive instantaneity of the internet. In 2007, the Near Future Laboratory made Slow Messenger, an IM appliance that would reveal messages only if you cradled it in your hand; last year, the artist Ben Grosser created the Minus social network, on which you can post only 100 times. Other technologies of unhurriedness include Dialup (a surprise-phone-call app), Slowly (a pen-pal service), and Mail Goggles (a Gmail add-in to prevent email regret).

I used to find such projects appealing for their subversiveness: as art objects that make problems visible rather than proposing viable solutions to them. But now it’s clear that the internet needs design innovations—and brake mechanisms—to reduce its noxious impact. Our suffering arises, in part, from the speed and volume of our social interactions online. Maybe we can build our way toward fewer of them.

Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and TikTok and their ilk are unlikely to reduce engagement on purpose, because their businesses rely on maximizing it. But newcomers don’t have to play by the same rules. Pony offers a modest but realistic alternative: a somewhat novel way of doing one specific thing online slightly more deliberately than you did before. If a thousand such flowers were to bloom, perhaps the internet’s landscape would become more humane.

The “slow internet” emerged as an idea in 2010, just as the combination of smartphones and broadband had become universal enough to make “extremely online” a default way of life. The movement arose largely on blogs—already a slower way of writing and reading than the social networks that would soon supplant them—and came amid a spate of interest in “slow cinema” and “slow food.” “It’s not just about being first and fast and superficial,” wrote the film critic Jim Emerson at the time; “it’s an opportunity to consider a spectrum of arguments and evidence.”

Two years later, and a month after Facebook went public, the writer Jack Cheng blogged a paean to the “slow web,” an aspirational design philosophy that would, in principle, short-circuit the assumptions of an always-online life. He, too, drew a parallel to slow food and its turn away from mindless consumption. The internet had become impossible to keep up with. Everything happened constantly and all the time. Cheng wanted information to present itself when needed, rather than being delivered in a continuous, real-time feed. “Fast Web is built around homepages, inboxes, and dashboards,” Cheng wrote. “Slow Web is built around timely notifications.”

But timely notifications would soon be constant too. As apps began harassing us with invitations to reengage, “timeliness” became just another version of “real-time.” In 2016, when blogs were all but dead, Cheng disclaimed the whole idea: “A number of the services listed below as examples of ‘Slow Web’ are now defunct,” he wrote in an update to his post, “and the ‘Fast Web’ seems today to be even faster, more frenetic, more addictive.” The slow internet was over.

Maybe fastness hadn’t really been the problem. Cheng’s examples of prosocial apps differentiated themselves by function more than cadence: a reminder app that sends notifications for daily tasks (Budge), or a recap of what happened on this date a year ago (Timehop). Pony picks up here, envisioning not just a slower form of computerized communication, but a different one.

[Read: The triumph of email]

This wasn’t yet clear to Minkovsky when he created Pony in 2019. The first iteration piggybacked on existing email accounts. That was a mistake. “I violated the cardinal rule,” he told me: “Don’t fix email.” Attempts to do so—whether based on robotic filtering or live chat or automated reading—have always failed. Email is the cockroach of internet software, invincible. And in Minkovsky’s view, it will forever be bound up with work: It’s time-sensitive; it has aboutness. (“Emails have subjects,” he told me.) Whether those qualities are good or bad, trying to unseat them is a fool’s errand.

So Minkovsky went back to the drawing board, making Pony a self-contained service. Now the messages appear only in the Pony Messenger app, which means your interlocutors need to have Pony too. As a result, Minkovsky faces the same challenge as the creators of any new communication technology: A service can thrive only once it has recruited a large number of customers. That’s what made postal mail, telephony, email, and later Facebook and Instagram so effective (and valuable): their ubiquity. But the power of network effects also issues a dangerous temptation for technology start-ups. In a noisy market with wealthy incumbents, new players must carpet-bomb the internet for new users, and then ensnare those who sign up in engagement thirst traps. Or at least this has long seemed to be the case.

Minkovsky isn’t a slow-food-style pastoralist but a capitalist. He studied chemistry at the University of Chicago and then worked in finance—“a thing people from U of Chicago do if they don’t know what they want to do.” His spoils from that career allowed him to take the time to make Pony with his own hands—slow software development, you might say—and now he aims to turn it into a commercially viable product with backing from venture capital. “Obviously I’m not going to be able to turn this into Instagram,” he said, “because surveillance capitalism is a bit hard to do when you’re not giving people a constant task or list of things to react to.” But Minkovsky sees other ways of making money, including advertising. He theorizes a possible return of the weekly print circular, for example, via Pony messages.

In other words, the age of megascale may leave room again for mere scale. (“I want Pony to be big,” Minkovsky told me.) And the slow internet may yet be revived as a viable business.

In November, I downloaded Pony and managed to persuade one of my friends—the design futurist and Slow Messenger creator Julian Bleecker—to do the same. I’ve set the app to send and retrieve messages at 5:30 a.m., and every few days I wake up to a new missive from my one Pony pen pal, which I read before getting up or over coffee. It’s charming, but we also don’t really know what to say or how to say it. How do letters work, again?

To overcome the anxiety, Julian adopted a stiff-collared, 19th-century epistolary style—“I trust you and your’n are faring well and have avoided thus far the horrible pestilence that invades the calm of social life.” I responded in kind, and now we can’t seem to shake the affectation, even though both of us find it embarrassing. (My editor fell into the same trap when we tried to edit this article via Pony, which suggests that it’s an affectation all users must adopt for a time.)

[Read: A behavioral economist tries to fix email]

Perhaps that’s because the form and content of communications are tightly coupled. What one thinks to say, let alone manages to express, arises from a technology’s constraints and affordances. The brevity of Twitter, mated to its firehose constancy, makes dashing off random notions without a second thought easy—for better and for worse. Email’s imposition of a subject line, its longevity as a tool, and its popularity in workplaces and commercial relationships make it more transactional than personal.

The internet has made all information feel like a flow of the same type of material. In a way, that is the promise and consequence of digitization—everything is bits, software eats the world, and so forth. But not all data are the same, in nature or purpose. A retail receipt is not a love letter. A work task is not a joke meme. A pornographic image is not a family photo. A “slow internet” framing makes it easy to confuse a tempo for a purpose. By forcing me to receive messages no more than once a day, Pony invites me to ponder what sorts of exchanges might thrive under those conditions. Julian and I have begun sketching notes for creative projects we can’t seem to move forward via other means. My editor and I have discovered that a Ponyful of editorial notes can prove more tractable than a barrage of Google Doc comments or Slack bullets.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Pony improves collaboration—the point isn’t to build a better email, or to improve Slack or Gdocs, but to find gratifying matches between human goals and technical tools. Minkovsky told me that he has found Pony most useful not for communicating with people he already emails or texts, but for corresponding more effectively with the handful of friends to whom he rarely reaches out. “The people I’ve given up on,” as he rationalizes it—the ones who might get only an annual happy birthday greeting.

If Pony is neither email nor its aspirational successor, what is it? Minkovsky has been marketing the app as “mindful messaging,” a notion that gives me hives. “Mindfulness doesn’t mean much to me personally,” he admitted when I challenged him on the packaging. Minkovsky’s family emigrated to the Baltimore area from the Soviet Union when he was a young child, and he repeats a line from his post-Bolshevik grandmother as a possible clarification: “If you’re eating, focus on your eating.” This is his hope for Pony, that it might help people do the thing they’re doing when they do correspondence.

But my experience with Pony, and Minkovsky’s stories about his own, suggest that we don’t really know what we’re doing when we correspond, and we don’t really know what we want when we dream of ways to slow things down online. We’re not recovering some imagined, primordial state of full attention and deliberateness, nor are we abandoning the purported evils of email or Facebook. Faced with an internet that is much too big and much too fast, we’ll never find a big and fast solution. Any progress will be earned, one day at a time.

Intense focus on HSC results and ATAR must end   16%

The ATAR is a good and robust measure of scholastic achievement, but a narrow obsession with an academic ranking does not serve our 21st century needs.

AIPAC Goes PAC and SuperPAC to Cover its Tracks as it Targets Progressives   8%

We're likely to see even more money going … to support these candidates who are perceived to be moderate Democrats who are pro-Israel, and to either protect them if they're incumbents or to unseat [their opponents] if they're progressives. – Don Waxman, UCLA

The post AIPAC Goes PAC and SuperPAC to Cover its Tracks as it Targets Progressives appeared first on MintPress News.

Louis Hanson: the 10 funniest things I have ever seen (on the internet)   26%

The podcaster and comedian’s brain is filled with ‘no thoughts, just vibes’ – and the vibes include petty plush toys, news blunders and a yassified Grinch

You’re about to take a journey through the inside of my mind. Take a seat and make yourself comfortable. I hope you like what I’ve done with the place.

To the left you’ll find a bunch of old MySpace HTML codes, Spice Girls song lyrics and a play-by-play of every embarrassing thing I’ve ever done (they like to come to the surface at 2am whenever I’m trying to fall asleep). To the right, just over there, is my “no thoughts, just vibes” room – a space reserved for zero memory retention. It’s a place I like to visit whenever I try to think of a recipe or remember someone’s name immediately after meeting them.

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'Surreal': Naomi Osaka on support from Andy Murray after Australian Open win video   -1%

Naomi Osaka said Andy Murray's support 'means a lot' after he praised her on Twitter during her second-round victory against the American Madison Brengle at the Australian Open. 'It was really cool just to have someone like him talking about my game,' she said during the press conference. Osaka will now face Amanda Anisimova in the third round.

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How I Met Your Father review stale sequel is for nostalgia fans only   32%

Hulu’s follow-up to popular sitcom How I Met Your Mother, starring Hilary Duff, offers no reason to watch other than fondness for the original

One’s enjoyment of How I Met Your Father, Hulu’s 10-episode standalone sequel of the popular sitcom How I Met Your Mother, will mostly depend on nostalgia for the original. I don’t have much of it for How I Met Your Mother (often styled HIMYM), a successor to Friends about a group of white twentysomethings, then thirtysomethings, living and dating in Manhattan which ran on CBS from 2005 until 2014. Everyone has their taste in TV comfort food (I just inhaled Emily in Paris) but HIMYM and its hopeless romanticism was too corny for me, too sweet.

Its central conceit, of a middle-aged Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor, with the late Bob Saget as narrator) telling his children the story of meeting their mother in the most convoluted way possible, might have started out fresh. But by the early 2010s it felt overdone, even for a multi-camera network sitcom with a laugh track.

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Ten ways to take control of your smartphone   13%

Overwhelmed by messages, notifications and distractions? You can reclaim your focus without a full digital detox

Are you in control of your smartphone or is it in control of you? Sometimes it is difficult to tell. One minute you might be using FaceTime to chat with loved ones or talking about your favourite TV show on Twitter. Next, you’re stuck in a TikTok “scroll hole” or tapping your 29th email notification of the day and no longer able to focus on anything else.

We often feel like we can’t pull ourselves away from our devices. As various psychologists and Silicon Valley whistleblowers have stated, that is by design.

Becca Caddy is the author of Screen Time: How to Make Peace With Your Devices and Find Your Techquilibrium (Blink, £14.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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The Israeli link behind New Yorks temple of comedy  

The Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village is a place where Dave Chapelle, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman and Ray Romano just drop by to perform unannounced. The bosses there tell Haaretz why

Too hot for the plot: could a modelling job save Jamie Dornans character in Belfast?   38%

In Kenneth Branagh’s acclaimed drama, Dornan plays a penniless father whose astonishing good looks pass without comment. It’s not the first time the film industry has asked audiences to ignore an actor’s attractiveness

Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast clearly owes a debt to Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. Both films are named after places. They’re both autobiographical. They’re both filmed in black and white for maximum awards season impact. And yet the films differ in one key area. Cuarón, for the most part, filled his film with authentic-looking non-actors. Branagh, meanwhile, filled his with Jamie Dornan.

Which is no slight on Dornan. In recent years he’s proved himself to be one of our most charismatic and magnetic actors. Put a camera on Jamie Dornan and audiences won’t look away. Except in Belfast, he’s playing the down-at-heel dad of a family barely able to stay afloat. At one point he is almost sunk by a £500 tax bill. Which would be all too believable, save for the fact that Jamie Dornan looks like Jamie Dornan. If Belfast was set in any recognisable universe, then one of Dornan’s neighbours would have said, “Have you ever thought about becoming a model?”, or “I saw you singing Everlasting Love to professional standards in the club the other night, you could try doing that for a living”, or “You know what would get you out of this pickle? Playing a literal sex god in the movie adaptations of a wildly successful erotic novel series?” And he would have said yes and, because he is Jamie Dornan, all his debts would have been paid off by lunchtime.

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The electric car bubble will burst - and thats a good thing   38%

The two things we know for sure about the market for electric vehicles is that it is booming, and also that it is getting very, very crowded. In truth, it is about to turn into a bloodbath.

The Lost Sheep of Danny McBrides The Righteous Gemstones   -10%

The HBO comedy about megachurch pastors makes plain its interest in salvation, which is why the common comparisons to “Succession” don’t really work.

Commons backs suspension for MP who undermined own apology for bullying   -8%

Daniel Kawczynski makes second apology in parliament after he told BBC he had no choice but to say sorry the first time

MPs have voted to approve a one-day suspension for the Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski after he “undermined” an apology he gave in the Commons for bullying staff.

The standards watchdog found that the Shrewsbury MP had indicated in media interviews that he did not fully mean the gesture, and recommended his suspension should be limited to one day as Kawczynski had committed to undertaking further work on his behaviour.

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This Is No Way to Be Human   11%

Recently I met the astronomer Pascal Oesch, an assistant professor at the University of Geneva. Professor Oesch and his colleagues share the distinction of having discovered the most distant known object, a small galaxy called GNz-11. That galaxy is so far away that its light had to travel for 13 billion years to get from there to here. I asked Professor Oesch if he felt personally connected to this tiny smudge on his computer screen. Does this faint blob feel like part of nature, part of the same world of Keats and Goethe and Emerson, where “vines that round the thatch-eves run; to bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees”?  

Oesch answered that he looks at such distant smudges every day. Sure, they’re part of the universe, he said. But consider the abstraction (thought I). A few exhausted photons of light from GNz-11 dropped on a photoelectric detector aboard a satellite orbiting Earth, produced a tiny electrical current that was translated into 0s and 1s, which were beamed to Earth in a radio wave. That information was then processed in data centers in New Mexico and Maryland and eventually landed on Professor Oesch’s computer screen in Geneva. These days, professional astronomers rarely look at the sky through the lens of a telescope. They sit at computer screens.

But not only astronomers. Many of us invest hours each day staring at the screens of our televisions and computers and smartphones. Seldom do we go outside on a clear night, away from the lights of the city, and gaze at the dark starry sky, or take walks in the woods unaccompanied by our digital devices. Most of the minutes and hours of each day we spend in temperature-controlled structures of wood, concrete, and steel. With all of its success, our technology has greatly diminished our direct experience with nature. We live mediated lives. We have created a natureless world.

[Read: Nature has lost its meaning]

It was not always this way. For more than 99 percent of our history as humans, we lived close to nature. We lived in the open. The first house with a roof appeared only 5,000 years ago. Television less than a century ago. Internet-connected phones only about 30 years ago. Over the large majority of our 2-million-year evolutionary history, Darwinian forces molded our brains to find kinship with nature, what the biologist E. O. Wilson called “biophilia.” That kinship had survival benefit. Habitat selection, foraging for food, reading the signs of upcoming storms all would have favored a deep affinity with nature. Social psychologists have documented that such sensitivities are still present in our psyches today. Further psychological and physiological studies have shown that more time spent in nature increases happiness and well-being; less time increases stress and anxiety. Thus, there is a profound disconnect between the natureless environment we have created and the “natural” affections of our minds. In effect, we live in two worlds: a world in close contact with nature, buried deep in our ancestral brains, and a natureless world of the digital screen and constructed environment, fashioned from our technology and intellectual achievements. We are at war with our ancestral selves. The cost of this war is only now becoming apparent.

Nico Krijno

In 2004, the social psychologists Stephan Mayer and Cindy McPherson Frantz, at Oberlin College, developed something called the “connectedness to nature scale” (CNS), a set of statements that could be used to determine a person’s degree of affinity for nature. After answering “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “neutral,” “agree,” or “strongly agree” to each statement, each participant would have an overall score computed. Some of the statements of the CNS test are:

I often feel a sense of oneness with the natural world around me.

I think of the natural world as a community to which I belong.

When I think of my life, I imagine myself to be part of a larger cyclical process of living.

I feel as though I belong to the Earth as equally as it belongs to me.

I feel that all inhabitants of Earth, human and nonhuman, share a common “life force.”

In recent years, psychologists have undertaken a number of studies to investigate correlations between scores on the CNS test and well developed methods for measuring happiness and well-being. In 2014, the psychologist Colin Capaldi and his colleagues at the Public Health Agency in Canada combined 30 such studies, involving more than 8,500 participants. The psychologists found a significant association between nature connectedness and life satisfaction and happiness. Capaldi and his team concluded that “Individuals higher in nature connectedness tend to be more conscientious, extraverted, agreeable, and open … nature connectedness has also been correlated with emotional and psychological well-being.”

There are many examples of such correlations in particular contexts. Hospital patients in rooms with foliage or windows looking out on gardens and trees do better after surgery. Workers in offices with windows that open up to pastoral-like views have less anxiety, more positive work attitudes, and more job satisfaction.

One does not have to look far to find literary expressions of the “well-being” brought about by immersion in nature. In his famous 1844 essay “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes: “There are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection, when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth make a harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring … We have crept out of our close and crowded houses into the night and morning, and we see what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom.”

[Read: How nature resets our minds and bodies]

In the more frenzied and tech-heavy times of today, we require more effort to creep out of our close and crowded houses. But the poet Mary Oliver succeeded. In her 1972 poem “Sleeping in the Forest,” Oliver writes that she “slept as never before, a stone / on the riverbed, nothing between me and the white fire of stars / but my thoughts, and they floated / light as moths among the branches / of the perfect trees … By morning / I had vanished at least a dozen times / into something better.”

The woods are particularly restorative. Japanese doctors and psychologists have developed a mental therapy called “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku). The idea is that spending time in nature—specifically walking through forests—might improve mental health. And it does. Research with hundreds of healthy volunteers, using standard psychological tests of mood and anxiety and comparing mental states of people who “bathed” in a forest for a day with those of the same group on another “control” day, away from the forest, have shown that hostility, depression, and stress are significantly decreased after a day in the forest. The effects are apparent not only on such psychological tests as the Multiple Mood Scale and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Measurable body chemicals sing out our levels of anxiety and stress. Numerous studies, recently summarized and published in the International Journal of Biometeorology, have shown that forest bathing significantly reduces levels of cortisol, the body’s principal stress hormone. It’s little wonder. Hormones are messengers between the brain and the rest of the body. And our brains evolved over the millions of years that we lived in the savannas and plains, not in the covered constructions of the past few thousand years.

My most intense experience with nature occurred a number of years ago on a small island in Maine. A family of ospreys lived near our house on the island. Each season, my wife and I observed the birds’ rituals and habits. In mid-April, the parents would arrive at the nest, having spent the winter in South America, and lay eggs. In late May or early June, the eggs hatched. As the father dutifully brought fish to the nest each day, the babies would grow bigger and bigger and in mid-August were large enough to make their first flight. Throughout the season, my wife and I recorded all of these comings and goings. We noted the number of chicks each year. We observed when the adolescent ospreys first began flapping their wings, in early August, a couple of weeks before having the strength to become airborne and leave the nest for the first time.

One late August afternoon, the two juvenile ospreys of that season took flight for the first time as I stood observing them from my second-floor circular deck. All summer long, they had watched me on that deck as I watched them. The circular deck was about nest high, so to the fledgling birds, I must have seemed to be in my nest, just as they were in theirs. On this particular afternoon, in their maiden flight, they did a wide, half-mile loop out over the ocean and then headed straight at me with tremendous speed. A juvenile osprey, although slightly smaller than a full-grown adult, is still a large bird, with powerful talons. My immediate impulse was to run for cover, since the birds could have ripped my face off. But something held me to my ground. When they were within 15 or 20 feet of me, the two birds suddenly veered upward and away. But before that dazzling and frightening vertical climb, for about a second we made eye contact. Words cannot convey what was exchanged between us in that instant. It was a look of connectedness, of mutual respect, of recognition that we shared the same land. It was a look that said, as clear as spoken words, “We are brothers in this place.” After the two young ospreys were gone, I found that I was shaking, and in tears. To this day, I don’t understand exactly what happened in that second. But it was a profound connection to nature. It was a feeling of wholeness.

In a remarkable study several years ago, Selin Kesebir of the London Business School and the psychologist Pelin Kesebir of the University of Wisconsin at Madison found that references to nature in novels, song lyrics, and film story lines began decreasing in the 1950s, while references to the human-made environment did not. First, the researchers carefully selected a list of 186 words that reflect nature and the human connection to nature, excluding scientific terminology. Examples of nature words in the general category were animal, snow, soil, autumn, river, sky, star, and season. Examples in the bird category were hawk, heron, and robin. Examples in the tree category were elm, redwood, and cedar. In the flower category: bluebell, lilac, rose. For comparison, the scientists chose words reflecting the human-built environment, such as bedroom, street, and lamp. Then the researchers used online databases, such as Google Ngram,, and IMDb to track the frequency with which nature words, and the comparison “natureless” words, appeared in various cultural products since 1900. (I can’t help but point out the irony of using technology to document the less pleasant effects of technology.) Of course, new words are constantly being added to the lexicon, driving down older words. However, the Kesebirs did not find a decreasing frequency of older words related to the human-built environment. Another competing effect they also ruled out: that people have been moving from rural to urban environments over time. Although that trend is real, the growth rate of urban populations did not suddenly accelerate in the 1950s, in contrast to the deceleration of usage of nature words at that time. The researchers conclude that the decline of cultural references to nature, and thus the dwindling of nature in the popular imagination, must be associated with technological changes beginning around 1950, especially indoor and virtual activities such as television (1950s), video games (1970s), computers connected to the internet (1980s), and smartphones (1990s–2000s). In other words, the created world of the screen. Indeed, a 2018 Nielsen study found that the average American adult spends more than 9 hours a day looking at a digital screen. That’s more than half of our waking hours.

So exactly what have we lost in this natureless, digitized world we’ve created, besides the psychological dissonance with our ancestral selves? First, there’s the mental health of living with nature versus the increased stress of living without it, as I have described. Then there’s the psychological damage to our young people, resulting from disconnection from nature combined with excessive screen time. In his influential book Last Child in the Woods, the journalist Richard Louv coined the word nature-deficit disorder to describe the increased mental illnesses and depression of children deprived of immersion in nature. Studies recently summarized in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing show that while children are spending more time indoors, their mental-health problems are increasing. By contrast, the studies also conclude that more time spent in “green space” increases children’s attention, moderates stress, and even correlates with higher scores on standardized tests.

Then there is the artificial world of the screen itself. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, and her colleagues, in a survey of more than 44,000 caregivers of children and adolescents in the United States, found that increases in screen time that exceeded one hour a day were accompanied by less and less psychological well-being, including less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, and less ability to finish tasks. Adolescents in the oldest group, ages 14 to 17, spend an average of 4.6 hours on the screen per day.

All of this is alarming and demands intervention. But I think we have lost something else in our removal from nature, something more subtle and harder to measure: a groundedness, a feeling of connection to things larger than ourselves, a calm against the frenzied pace of our wired world, a source of creativity, and the wholeness I felt in my eye-to-eye communion with the ospreys. Nature nourishes our spiritual selves. And by that I mean a feeling of being part of things larger than ourselves, a connection to something ancient and true in this fleeting world, an appreciation of beauty, and an awe of this strange and wonderful cosmos we find ourselves in. All of us feel that unnameable thing when we walk in the woods or sit by the ocean or stare at the heavens on a luminous night. Somehow, we are reconnecting with our ancestral selves and the long chain of lives stretching back to primeval oceans and unblemished land.

Technology, in its broadest sense, has brought about these dislocations. Of course, there are many different kinds of science and technology, most of which have improved the quality of life. The printing press, the steam engine, antibiotics, the automobile, the vacuum tube, silicon chips, electricity, the birth-control pill, anesthesia, the refrigerator. Televisions, computers, and smartphones have also improved the quality of life when used in moderation, when not preventing us from experiencing wind, rivers, sky, meteor showers, trees, soil, and wild animals. Technology itself does not have a mind. Technology itself does not have values. It is we human beings who have minds and values and can use technology for good or for ill.

[Read: Nature isn’t really healing]

I am not so naive as to think that the careening technologization of the modern world will stop or even slow down. But I do think that we need to be more mindful of what this technology has cost us and the vital importance of direct experiences with nature. And by “cost,” I mean what Henry David Thoreau meant in Walden: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” The new technology in Thoreau’s day was the railroad, which he feared was overtaking life. Thoreau’s concern was updated by the literary critic and historian of technology Leo Marx in his 1964 book, The Machine in the Garden. That book describes the way in which pastoral life in America was interrupted by the technology and industrialization of the 19th and 20th centuries. Marx could not have imagined the internet and the smartphone, which arrived only a few decades later. And now I worry about the promise of an all-encompassing virtual world called the “metaverse,” and the Silicon Valley arms race to build it.  Again, it is not the technology itself that should concern us. It is how we use that technology, in balance with the rest of our lives.

Many years ago, I took my then 2-year-old daughter to the ocean for the first time. As I remember, we had to walk quite a distance from the parking lot to the point where the ocean slid into view. Along the way, we passed various signs of the sea: sand dunes; sea shells; sunbaked crab claws; delicate piping plovers, which would run and peck, run and peck, run and peck; clumps of sea lavender growing between rocks; and an occasional empty soda can. The air smelled salty and fresh. My daughter followed a zigzagging path, squatting here and there to examine an interesting rock or shell. Then we climbed over the crest of a final sand dune. And suddenly, the ocean appeared before us, silent and huge, a turquoise skin spreading out and out until it joined with the sky. I was anxious about my daughter’s reaction to a part of nature she’d never seen before, vast and primeval. Would she be frightened, elated, indifferent? For a moment, she froze. Then she broke out in a smile.


Its a war zone: healthcare workers show signs of stress similar to combat veterans   20%

After nearly two years of caring for Covid patients, many providers are leaving the field amid hospital staffing shortages

Almost two years after working in a temporary Covid intensive care unit at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Kim Bishop, a critical care nurse, can still remember which patients were in which rooms.

“When you walk back on these units, you know which patient survived in which room and which ones didn’t,” said Bishop, who still works at the Philadelphia hospital and moves among different units. “I thought we closed that chapter once we closed that unit, but now walking back into it, it’s almost like a slap in the face.”

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We have people living out of their cars: 8,000 Kroger workers strike over wages   10%

Workers at nearly 80 grocery stores accuse corporation of making big profits during pandemic while not paying employees enough

More than 8,000 workers at nearly 80 Kroger-owned King Soopers grocery stores around Colorado started a three-week strike on Wednesday as new union contract negotiations stalled.

The dispute is the latest in which workers have accused a corporation of making big profits during the pandemic while not paying high enough wages.

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How Encanto Explains America   50%

In Disney’s latest blockbuster, Encanto, a magical family called the Madrigals have escaped the violence and chaos of their homeland by crossing a river into an enchanted paradise that endows each with wondrous gifts that they use to protect and enhance their community. As the generations go by, however, the magic of the new world starts to fade and the family buckles under the pressure of their responsibilities while struggling to maintain the illusion that everything is fine. One grandchild, we learn, has no gift at all; another worries that she cannot keep up the appearance of perfection that is crushing her from the inside out; while another, still, panics that she is losing her superhuman strength. Luisa, the strong one, sings out her fears:

Under the surface;

I hide my nerves and it worsens;

I worry something is gonna hurt us;

Under the surface

The ship doesn’t swerve as it heard how big the iceberg is;

Under the surface I think about my purpose;

Can I somehow preserve this?

Now, two years of pandemic parenting might be playing with my mind, but I think the writers of Encanto are trying to tell us something here. Having watched the new release (twice) with my little one recently—and then listened to its soundtrack on repeat ever since—the message seems fairly clear: America is broken (but don’t worry, all is not lost).

Encanto comes from the same team as Moana, the 2016 smash; the music in both was written by the Hamilton creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. As you might expect from Disney, both movies are full of color and life and hope, and both are classically uplifting fables with all the flair and modernity of a Miranda musical. But it’s not just the music that rhymes in these movies—the message rhymes as well.

[Read: How Lin-Manuel Miranda shapes history]

For those without children, let’s take a quick look at the plots of both movies. A brave band of people originally from somewhere else move to a new (and conveniently uninhabited) world.  After a period of bliss, this new land is threatened by malign forces that turn out to be not from without, but from within. To avert disaster, a hero—or, rather, a heroine—is needed to restore the heart to the country, to rebuild its foundations.

Both movies are set outside the U.S. but couldn’t be more American if they were called “Buffalo Bill’s Manifest Destiny.” It’s not that the movies are somehow imperialist or culturally insensitive—though I am neither Colombian nor Polynesian so it is perhaps not my place to say. From here in London, each movie looks and sounds wonderful and about as authentic as an animation is probably able to be. Either way, the movies are inescapably American, based on American assumptions, American hopes, and American fears, and do a better job at revealing the country’s state of mind right now than any Ph.D. thesis or New York Times op-ed.

What’s more, both movies have a prophet, a figure who can see what’s coming but who, because of this, is cast aside, marginalized, canceled—no one wants to hear the bad thing. It is no coincidence, surely, that this theme of death foretold grips Hollywood’s wider imagination right now. It is, of course, the central message of Don’t Look Up and even of the remake of Dune released last year. In Encanto, the leitmotif—or recurring theme—used by Miranda to emphasize the point is the catchy one-liner “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” Bruno is the brother who “lost his way” after seeing the future and disappeared.

And, yes, while clearly not everyone, or even perhaps a majority of people, in America share Miranda & Co.’s diagnosis of the national illness—or, for that matter, that of the writers of Don’t Look Up—the fact is that Hollywood movies like these remain important vectors of American culture, helping to promote a particular image of the country to the world while simultaneously helping to shape the country’s own imaginative sense of what it is.

[Read: Don’t Look Up is a primal scream of a film]

Take Moana, a movie whose core message is that a voyaging people who have forgotten who they are need to rediscover their spirit of adventure in order to prosper. It is, in essence, a frontier saga, a kind of giddyap to the country to remember what made it great. (It was released in theaters the month that Donald Trump was elected president.) In Encanto, the people who have lost their way are not voyagers, but refugees. Still, as in Moana, they find a new homeland, “a place of wonder.” It’s not a complicated allegory.

Outside the U.S., would an Encanto or a Moana even have been made? A cultural context with the same hopes, fears, and assumptions is hard to imagine. Even here in Britain, where we like to think of ourselves (self-importantly) as the Greece to America’s Rome, I just can’t see it. Yes, many of us are just as taken as Americans are by the notion that our land is another Eden, a “fortress built by Nature for herself, against infection and the hand of war,” as Shakespeare put it. And, just like Americans do today, many of us see division at home as the threat to our peace: “England, that was wont to conquer others, hath made a shameful conquest of itself” and all that. Still, the narrative threads that help us to understand our world are different than those in the U.S. For all that the sun never set on the British empire, there is not really a British frontier like there is an American one. And if we are an immigrant nation, it is not in the same way that the United States is.

None of this is to criticize the message or the values or the plot (and certainly not the music) of Encanto and Moana, but merely to reflect on what the movies tell us about America today. Moana’s message when it arrived six years ago was hopeful, suggesting that redemption lies in a change of outlook, a rekindling of an original spirit that has been lost but not yet entirely forgotten, living on in those we just need to listen to. Moana’s world is not yet that of Don’t Look Up, in which America is too far gone to be saved.

Walt Disney Co. / Everett

The fear that something has been lost from the original American spirit is a theme that runs through the past few decades of American TV and cinema. In The Sopranos, which I also rewatched recently, the whole plot revolves around Tony’s sense of loss. In the first episode he demands to know where the old American man has gone, the strong and silent Gary Cooper type that defined his childhood. Tony’s anxiety about his powerlessness to stop his family and world from changing in front of his eyes leads to panic attacks and the start of his sessions with a psychiatrist.

In Encanto, the matriarch of the family is similarly scared that she is losing control. “If our family knew how vulnerable we truly are,” she says to herself at one point, “if our miracle is dying … We cannot lose our home again.” But she doesn't know how to maintain the (literal) magic of their casita. “Open my eyes,” she implores. “If the answer is here, help me find it. Help me protect our family. Help me save our miracle.”

Is the American miracle dying too? This, it seems to me, is the question that now dominates American public life. If the miracle is dying, why? And more than that: What even is the American miracle?

In The Sopranos, Tony believes that the miracle is dying because the country has become all soppy and weak, so much so that even mobsters like him are crying in front of their shrinks. In Moana, too, the crisis is a spiritual one, though obviously of a slightly different kind. The people of Motunui have forgotten what made them great, which was not quite the cowboy calm of Gary Cooper but was the kind of adventurous, voyaging spirit that the Wild West represented. The Madrigal family of Encanto, however, are suffering from something much deeper than a crisis of outlook. Encanto identifies the threat as structural. And in doing so, I think, it reflects the changes that have happened in the world over the past six years.

The beauty of kids’ movies, of course, is that self-indulgent arts-grad-type parents like me—just the kind of people Tony Soprano would loathe—can drift off into their own speculative theories about what the film really means while their children just enjoy it and the songs for what they are. When I watched Encanto, all I could think of (other than that it sounded exactly like Moana and Hamilton) was that it was a morality tale about a declining America in a brutal world. My son just thought Luisa was brilliant because she sang about Hercules.

Anyway, in my speculative mind, the challenge to the U.S. and the West today is, as Encanto suggests, more daunting than it was in 2016, when Moana was released, and surely requires more than a simple change in outlook to address. Simply being more brave and hopeful is not going to cut it. The problems facing the West are structural: China is a superpower and growing; Russia is resurgent and expansionist; the Middle East chaotic; and Europe resentful. It is far from clear that, together, the U.S. and Europe have the unity, will, and perhaps resources to maintain the status quo. In Beijing, Moscow, much of the Middle East, and even in Europe, there is a sense that the American world is coming to an end.

[Read: Moana is a big, beautiful Disney smash]

At home, as Encanto implies, the U.S. is divided and ill at ease with its responsibilities. From afar the country seems conflicted about the most basic of questions: Who is it, and what should its global role be? Is it committed to remaining hegemonic or not? Is it united enough at home to be so even if it wanted to be? Does it even accept the legitimacy of its own system of government, the source of its magic? With America itself beginning to doubt its own power, is it any wonder that the country’s allies and enemies are too?

In foreign-policy terms, Trump’s radicalism lay in his argument that American hegemony was not in America’s interest. In his view, those sheltering under American protection were simply taking advantage for their own gain—and often at America’s expense. Will this vision prevail? And if so, if America has given up trying to lead, to push at the frontier, what then will be its purpose? In Europe, despite the extraordinary consequences that such a shift might present, infighting also seems to be the order of the day. Those in the U.S. who feel down about the country's divisions should remember that if America is conflicted about who it is and what its purpose is meant to be, Europe, taken as a whole, is no better and perhaps has even deeper structural problems in its path than America does as it seeks to find a way to act with unity and purpose.

I won’t spoil the ending either to Encanto or to Moana (suffice to say both movies are great), but will instead leave you with Bruno’s message to his niece halfway through:

I saw the magic in danger.

Our house breaking.

And then, and then, and then, I saw you.

But the vision was different. It … it would change.

And there was no one answer. No clear fate.

The casita is threatened. The heart must be restored. But all is not lost, the future is not set. That’s the message. America has bounced back from worse, much worse—but it’s not just Miranda who is worried. More and more of the world sees the flame of America’s miracle flickering too.

Melbourne set to step into breach as 2026 Commonwealth Games host city  

Melbourne has emerged as a likely host of the 2026 Commonwealth Games.

Can a blockbuster still win big at the Oscars?   24%

Sony’s bullish FYC campaign for smash hit Spider-Man: No Way Home has reignited a debate over what kind of film the Academy should be rewarding

Nobody was talking much about Oscars when Spider-Man: No Way Home was released in cinemas last month, but it was easy enough to see that they soon would be. The film swung onto screens as a pre-ordained saviour of cinema, the hopes of an industry pinned on its well-worn spandex bodysuit. As soon as the film delivered the gargantuan box-office receipts that were fully expected of it, its handlers could go about requesting a non-financial reward for their efforts.

By the end of December, the film’s formal Oscar campaign for best picture had been launched, while a feature in trade outlet the Hollywood Reporter gave the producers a generous platform to insist on their worthiness. Marvel Studios’ president, Kevin Feige, made his case on populist grounds, stating his hope that the Academy “will think about the artistry that goes into storytelling that connects with a wide range of people on a very emotional level”, and adding that the public’s stand-and-cheer response to the film is “the sort of thing the Academy was founded, back in the day, to recognize”. Sony Pictures’ chair, Tom Rothman, meanwhile, argued for No Way Home as the model of “quality commerciality” that “the Academy needs to stay connected to”. His self-pitying clincher: “We have to overcome, weirdly, the prejudice against the fact that it’s a big hit.”

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Easy wins: better than a warm cup of milk, read for six minutes before bed for good sleep   52%

Committing to six minutes of reading a night before bed sounds easy – and it is. Not only can it improve sleep and reduce stress, but you’ll be better read too

We’re all on a never-ending pursuit to perfect the art of good shuteye. Theories abound, so it is easy to find yourself in a maze of advice, mindfulness techniques and mum’s advice about the magic of a cup of warm milk at night.

But one tactic I found ticked all my boxes: reading for just six minutes before you go to sleep. Relaxing your brain in a way that Netflix before bed just can’t, this simple trick has both improved my sleep and put an end to my reading slump.

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AG Maura Healey expected to announce run for governor Thursday   5%

Healey's announcement would make her the third Democrat to enter the race.

The post AG Maura Healey expected to announce run for governor Thursday appeared first on

Going nuclear: Should nations unilaterally decide?   15%

As nations like France extend the life of ageing nuclear energy infrastructure, bordering countries that could suffer most from a meltdown have little say.

Credit Suisse plunged into chaos after chairmans sudden exit   10%

The banker tasked with fixing Credit Suisse was ousted just nine months into the job for breaching COVID quarantine rules, throwing the Swiss financial giant into fresh turmoil as it struggles to emerge from a series of scandals.

Cold-case probe leads to surprise suspect in Anne Frank's betrayal  

It is 'very likely' that Jewish notary Arnold van den Bergh gave up the Franks to save his own family, says team of researchers that includes retired FBI agent and about 20 historians

Laura Deas targeting pretty special medal haul in Beijing  

Deas has struggled to repeat her Pyeongchang heroics, with just three top finishes to her name.